Once More with Feeling: Whitehead’s concept of feeling and a trans-human ethics.

Dr. Andrew Goodman
University of New South Wales

Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of feeling is inclusive of not only all life forms, but also inanimate matter and conceptual processes. In his ‘organic’ philosophy, Whitehead places emphasis on the ability of all events to selectively draw from their environment or field, and sees this capacity to choose as the basis of the essential creativity of existence. Like Darwin’s studies on worms and Deleuze’s writing on geology, such radical concepts fly in the face of both a human centered and deterministic conceptions of evolution and relation. As Judith Jones and Andrew Murphie’s writing on Whitehead’s theory examine, this concept of ‘feeling’ replaces fixed identities and relations with a system that emphasizes the autonomy of the becoming of an entity, without denying the ways in which such becoming draws on both the actualized environment from which it emerges. Here relation and participation is not simply between the human and world, but a complex, forward-driving entanglement of all components of an environment. In such a system, an ethics – that is, a right to fully express this capacity to ‘feel’ – must be inclusive of all, not only the ‘natural’ but also human-made objects and processes.

In this paper these concepts will be explored through an examination of the induction drawings of Australian artist Joyce Hinterding. How might such art works that consider the transpersonal or more-than-human open our sympathy to the world, and can we conceive through this of an ethics that addresses the field as a vital system from which we and other matter arises?